‘Ice Road’ Recap: Winter, trucks and drivers overheat

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Last week, three out of four drivers on Ice Road Truckers wound up in the ditch.

In last night’s episode, two trucks overheated … so did two drivers as the season wound down and the temperatures warmed up.

Todd DeweyTodd Dewey

Todd Dewey: Survival mission to Garden Hill

Todd Dewey takes his work on the ice roads seriously. Especially seriously in last night’s episode as he had a load of groceries for the First Nation village of Garden Hill, which was running low on supplies and facing the prospect of this being the last truck in for a long while.

But, the ice road he was on would not make the run easy.

“This is a not a very good road,” said Dewey as he bounced along, listing its many flaws. “(It’s) rough, narrow, windy, and slick, and definitely hard to navigate.”

Dewey’s mood changed from determined to unhappy — no, make that borderline angry — the further he went on the narrow road with snow piled to its edge.

Slowing and struggling to make a tight turn, Dewey’s trailer got hung up in the snow, and he sounded like Art Burke at his best … or worst.

“I can’t back up, and I can’t go forward,” said Dewey. “I’m stuck. That’s it.”

Suggesting he was “failing my mission” and failing the good people of Garden Hill, Dewey fell back on a trick he has used in previous seasons on the ice roads. He attached a strap to his drive wheels, wrapped it around a couple of nearby, stout pine trees and then to the back of his stuck trailer.

Dewey gingerly edged forward and with a bit of slick self-winching was back on his way to Garden Hill, where he was well received by the guys unloading his truck.

Alex DebogorskiAlex Debogorski

Alex Debogorski: We don’t need no stinkin’ trailer

Veteran ice roader Alex Debogorski was in Pikangikum with another assignment to haul construction shacks. This time it was an entire kitchen unit weighing 14 tons.

Instead of putting it on a flatbed as he did with last week’s shack, Debogorski wound up pulling it on a steel sled. Luckily, he had an assist — a small bulldozer pushing from behind — getting it to the edge of Pikangikum Lake for a 10-mile ice crossing.

“Nothing like force and ignorance to get the job done,” said Debogorski.

On the lake, Debogorski figured there was less ice than the last time he was on it, and drove with his door ajar.

With the shack on the sleigh simply chained to the back of his truck, Debogorski had minimal control of his load. It wanted to slide sideways when he wanted to go straight, and when he took his foot off the gas or braked, all 14 tons of it slammed into his back bumper.

Eventually, Debogorski skidded the shack back onto solid ground, where it was loaded onto a flatbed for the trip to Red Lake.

After saying, “This is a hard ridin’ load,” Debogorski’s trip became even harder. His truck’s engine started running rough, warning bells started dinging and a steady stream of smoke trailed the load.

“I’d like to know what that’s all about,” he said casually. Then he stopped and found out: The engine was overheating. Badly.

After adding some antifreeze, Debogorski was, in his words, “Off like a dirty shirt” and made it to Red Lake.

“That turned into a heck of a journey,” he said.     

Art BurkeArt Burke

Art Burke: Truck, not Art, loses its cool

With a flatbed filled with building supplies, and facing a 500-mile trek from Pickle Lake to Kassibonica over a deteriorating ice road, Art Burke got a taste of Debogorski’s troubles.

Running over a rough and unfamiliar road, Burke’s truck took a mighty jolt, but he drove on … at least for a while.

“It smells like antifreeze in here,” said Burke with a quizzical look on his face. “That’s not good.”  

Stopping and lifting the hood, Burke found a mounting bracket had broken and punched a hole in the radiator, which now was leaking anti-freeze.

Proving many of life’s problems can be repaired with a well-placed zip tie, Burke secured the mounting bracket, and added two gallons of coolant, all he had with him.

“Hopefully,” said Burke, “It’s going to be fine.”

And, it was. Mostly.

The next day Burke was back on his way to Kassibonica (the pronunciation of which became a running joke for the driver).

“So far so good,” said Burke, tempting the ice road fates. “Maybe we’re going to be fine.”

The ice road was rapidly returning to its natural state; down to what Burke called “black muck” in some spots. But there was still enough snow in which Burke could get stuck. Efforts to spin his way out caused his truck to overheat, so Burke shut it down and let it cool off.

A second try freed his truck and its load and he was “on our merry way.”

Steph CustanceSteph Custance

Steph Custance: 10 miles of questionable ice

Rookie Steph Custance took her turn at moving construction equipment from Pikangikum. She had several large, empty, plastic water tanks on her flatbed and faced a 10-mile crossing of the same mostly frozen Pikangikum Lake Debogorski traversed.

“There’s a lot of water here; this does not look good,” said Custance before driving onto the ice.

She nursed her truck along, at times cursing like Burke and at other times calling on a higher power like Debogorski.

“What the **** am I doing?” she asked, following that question with, “Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god.”

Driving with her door open and fretting heavily all the way, Custance looked and sounded like a woman in need of a new career.

But, off the ice and with gravel under her wheels, she was a different woman.

“I couldn’t be happier,” she said heading to Winnipeg.

Ice Road Truckers airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. Eastern and 9 p.m. Central on the History cable channel.